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IFJ condemns return to state censorship after journalist's expulsion

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 08, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists today accused Russia of stepping back into the shadows of censorship and political intolerance after The Guardian's Moscow correspondent Luke Harding was expelled from the country, apparently in retaliation for writing a story linked to material provided by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.

Harding was refused entry at Moscow airport when he returned to the city yesterday. Immigration officials put him on the next flight back to London and told him he was barred.

The Guardian says the action comes after the newspaper published reports from diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, including an article by Harding on allegations that Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin had become a "virtual police state."

"This expulsion is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for the current Russian leadership to slip back into the shadows of censorship of years past," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "The action will worry campaigners for press rights inside Russia and across the globe."

The IFJ has called upon its affiliate in Russia, the Russian Union of Journalists, to take up Harding's case with the Russian authorities. According to the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, which is based in the offices of the Russian Union, Russia has denied entry to or deported more than 40 members of the press.

The IFJ says that this latest incident indicates a hardening of official attitudes to the press at the highest levels.

"Inside Russia journalists struggle to be free, often having to carry out their work at great personal risk," said White. "This expulsion shows that political intolerance of independent journalism is growing. It should be condemned by all those campaigning for democratic rights in the country and beyond."

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